Arrows go into Sunday’s Nedbank Cup semi-final at the Princess Magogo Stadium (3pm kickoff) slightly deflated after they conceded a 90th-minute own goal to lose 1-0 in midweek at Cape Town City.
Despite the defeat, Arrows remain in ninth place to stay in the hunt for a top-eight finish. They are one point adrift of Ajax Cape Town and two behind Maritzburg United going into the final round of the Absa Premiership matches next Saturday.
Pirates will be their opponent then, and this afternoon too when Arrows host Bucs in the semi-finals of the Nedbank Cup in KwaMashu.
The Soweto giants have endured a miserable season in the 80th year of their existence, which means this competition represents their last chance of salvaging something to celebrate the occasion.
Pirates occupy a lowly 11th spot in the league, two positions below Arrows, and have only a mathematical shot of squeezing into the top eight on goal difference, provided other results go their way.
They must beat Arrows, and hope that Ajax and Platinum Stars lose and at least draw in order to climb three places to get into the top half.
It’s a long shot, hence Arrows coach Clinton Larsen expects Pirates to throw everything into this cup tie.
“I don’t think Pirates will come here and underestimate us. We’ve earned their respect from our results this season. All they have to play for is the cup, so they will give us one helluva game.
“Pirates may not have been at their best this season, but they will still be a dangerous prospect. We’re not expecting an easy game, and they have more experience at this stage of knockout competitions compared to us,” said Larsen.
Despite Pirates’ woes, they enjoy the upper hand over Arrows so far this season, beating them 3-1 in the first round of the league, and 2-1 in the Telkom Knockout.
However, with home-ground advantage and a young and hungry squad, Larsen is optimistic they can register consecutive wins over Pirates and go all the way in their top eight and cup missions.
“Both are achievable targets. We have a fully fit squad, although one or two players will have to be assessed after the City game. Only Danny Phiri is suspended. This is an important one for us to get into the final, and then the following week there will be five clubs fighting for two spots,” said the Durban-born coach.
Ahead of the City clash, Arrows had nine players sitting on three yellow cards, one caution away from suspension. Seven of those players featured on Wednesday night, and Zimbabwean midfielder Phiri was the only casualty.
Larsen said that a club of Arrows’ stature couldn’t afford to pick and choose matches where they could rest players, because they lacked the depth of experience other clubs like Pirates enjoy.
That means most of the regulars who turned out against City, among them Kudakwashe Mahachi, Nkosinathi Mthiyane, Lerato Lamola and Wayde Jooste, will likely line up against Pirates.
And if any of them get suspended for the follow-up league game, then so be it. He doesn’t expect the threat of suspension to hold his players back either.
“For a lot of our players this is a first time in a semi-final, and they’re looking to play in a final at this early stage of their young career. It’s a good thing that they thrive on the big occasions, so it’s all to play for in the cup.
“Some players go their full career without playing in a final, so it’s all the motivation we need. We’re 180 minutes away from lifting a trophy and making history,” said Larsen.